Monday, July 09, 2007

I Observed an Autopsy Today

It was a unique experience.

25 comments:

JD said...

John,

Did you ever think you would be experiencing all the things you are experiencing when you were called to the ministry?

PAX
JD

John said...

Heh. No I did not.

DannyG said...

I worked on 2 cadavers during my training, and I still hold that they were amongst the best teachers I ever had.

T Michael W Halcomb said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
T Michael W Halcomb said...

What a way to kill time.


www.michaelhalcomb.blogspot.com

the reverend mommy said...

I used to go visit the morgue. At a children's hospital it felt like holy ground.

I pray for you daily right now, John.

Keith Taylor said...

Okay, I'll ask the stupid question.

Why on earth does a pastor need to attend an autopsy? Other than you just wanted to see what the inside of a body looks like.

Art said...

John, in my profession, I have seen many, many autopsy photos. That is as close as I ever want to get... Closer actually but I understand. Good luck!

Vicki said...

Wow. I never dreamed something like that would be part of your training, but I can almost imagine the reasoning.

I've never witnessed an autopsy, but I did "meet" Herman - he was the cadaver my hubby was assigned to in grad school. That's all the experience I want.

God bless you.

Turbulent Cleric said...

In Britain we are not offered this opportunity.

As a thoroughly squeaminsh individual, I am relieved that this is the case.

It might just put off my transsfer to the US.

Anonymous said...

John:

Now I feel deprived. My medical school education and medical training did not encompass shadowing clergy! :)
Thanks for sharing your CPE journey. I am completely fascinated with your training.

Respectfully,
Joesph

Rev. J said...

Isn't CPE a wonderful time! Group Therapy with a CSI twist.

I never saw an autopsy but I have seen a body in the process of being cremated and that was enough for me.

God’s blessings upon your CPE journey physically, mentally, and especially spiritually.

John said...

Viewing the autopsy was optional. Only one other of the five of us CPE students was interested, and he left after half an hour (he knew the patient when she was still alive). It's offered in order to reflect on the theology of the body and to reflect on death.

It's not that I was really interested in the autopsy; it's just that I saw no reason to flee from it.

Jeff the Baptist said...

Wow, I can't imagine watching the autopsy of someone I knew. Once a person, now an object.

John said...

The physician's assistant who performed the autopsy has been doing it for 35 years. He said that when his father died, his family asked him to perform an autopsy. Sensibly, he refused.

I gloved up and palpated the liver, feeling the tumors beneath the surface. And did a few other things. The key, the PA said, is to focus on the work and not on the person.

JD said...

John said:

"The key, the PA said, is to focus on the work and not the person."

So basically, do as all the secularists want us to do and take away the human, spiritual side out of it in order to get through it. Same way an abortionist has to look at the unborn child...an object, or growth, but not a baby. I guess it works if you have to, but to do that has to be a calling from God. It is too un-natural.

PAX
JD

John said...

Well, yeah, I suppose so. You're logic does follow. But an abortionist and a pathologist are morally different professions. The pathologist doesn't kill anyone.

Ken L. Hagler said...

Have you been given the opportunity to observe a surgery? I had that chance during my hospital stint. It would be an interesting contrast I imagine considering jd's reflection. Seeing someone perform a healing work was humbling.

JD said...

Even so, it seems, when you are around that sort of thing ALL day, an easy defense mechinisim would be to de-humanize the human, otherwise one risks some sort of psychlogical damage. Similar to the "if you tell a lie long enough, it becomes the truth.". That fear inside me to fall into a rut would bother me, but then again, giving it to God every day is all that would really allow for that job.

I have been reading these posts to my wife and her first response, being a nurse, was, "I think it would be cool to work with the ME.". It takes a special person.

PAX
JD

Anonymous said...

"Have you been given the opportunity to observe a surgery? I had that chance during my hospital stint. It would be an interesting contrast I imagine considering jd's reflection. Seeing someone perform a healing work was humbling."

Ahem!......with all due respect, hanging out with the anesthesiologist would be more "humbling" and way cooler! :)


Joseph

John said...

We're going to get the chance to observe open-heart surgery at some point, but I don't know when.

JD is correct that the hospital experience can be intensively dehumanizing to patients: no privacy, no autonomy, no self-sufficiency. Doctors and nurses try to avoid doing this, but they are so busy that it's hard to avoid it.

One of my regular patients was suffering from severe schizophrenia and severe mental retardation, in addition to various physical infirmities which put her on one of my floors. The nurse assigned to her said that I was wasting my time visiting her as "she's on another planet and won't know that you're there". But I visited her whenever I was on the floor. She was nonverbal, of course, but I spoke to her and prayed over her. The nurse at one point started a conversation with me while I was visiting her, which kind of irritated me because he was acting as though the patient was not in the room.

On the last time that I saw her, as I walked out of the room, I heard her say "Bye". Even though she was supposed to have no awareness of the world around her.

So, yes, we can dehumanize patients. But the autopsy is different because the person is dead. As long as we are respectful to the body, I don't see anything wrong with trying to compartmentalize our activities. I mean, I watched a human body get dissected! If we spoke to this dead patient and called her by name, we'd be driven nuts by the experience. And it is still a job that has to be done. The family wanted to know what killed their mother, and our job (well, the pathologist's job) was to find out why so that that family could have closure. Now what is dehumanizing about that?

JD said...

John,

De-humanizing is the wrong term. I guess I fear, looking at it as a job, in some sense, may allow the pathologist some moment of dis-respect. Not to say that always happens, but even though the soul has left the body, I guess it is hard for ME to make that distinction. I guess most normal people's fear of dead people. That sort of thing is what ever kept me from going into medicine. Had the grades and the interest, but not the desire to be around the blood and other things. I think it is absolutely awesome that you are able to have such a well rounded experience.

PAX
JD

the reverend mommy said...

I would call it distancing -- it's an important part of self-care to determine when we need to distance out of necessity and when we need to fully and completely engage. If a person were to fully engage all the time, you would soon succumb to compassion fatigue.

Keith Taylor said...

John,

I believe that Saint Luke would have envied you for this experience.

The human body is one of God's greatest creations. I sincerely and firmly believe that the knowledge you gain in this field of your spiritual study can only draw you closer to the Creator.

I loved the story of the girl you related above. We need professionals who deal in the anatomy and chemistry of the body. We need professionals who deal in the spiritual aspects of the human spirit. But we seem to have a shortage of professionals that understand that "man is a composite being - a natural organism tenated, or in symbiosis with, a supernatural spirit." (C.S. Lewis, Miracles)

Thanks again, so much, for sharing this.

JD said...

John,

The one thing I do remember from a recent conversation with my wife is similar to the nurse in you story. Although each and every nurse is taught to minister to the whole person, including spiritual, the demands and reality of the job do not allow for the needed time to do so and for Christian nurses can be one of the most frustrating parts of their job. One thing she has noticed, the times that God needed her there to share, He gave her the time and the patient the open heart to do it.

PAX
JD